Good Luck Desert Albatross

            Having graduated high school with the whole Summer open, Ryan and his girlfriend were traveling along the barren Utah desert. The sun was high above a pale blue canvas accompanied with thin, scattered clouds. The wreckage of Ryan's car was left back home in Arizona, and his girlfriend Kelsi was recently without a car. This left Ryan's mom Jacqueline to take them across states, a stressed-out brunette with a ponytail, burning through more cigarettes than gas in the process of driving.
            Both Ryan and Kelsi were formal with their appearances, but not overdressed; each of them wore glasses for bad eyesight though one was near-sighted the other far. They were for the most part, straight-edge Christian kids. Both were a bit uneasy in making the choice to spend the Summer with Ryan's uncle Rick knowing little about him but that he was referred to as wild and lonely; though this coupled with Rick's invitation was kind of why they decided they were for it.
            Kelsi winded her window down, hacking from the smoke.
            "We're almost there," Jacqueline rigidly stated. "Don't do anything stupid."
            "Well I doubt that--" Ryan spoke up before being interrupted.
            "He's my brother, I know." Smoke billowed from Jacqueline's mouth.
            They arrived to a quaint ranch home and pulled up next to a green truck. The residence was spaced some miles away from a small town. The front door opened with a slight creak.
            In the doorway, there was a tall man with long, gray hair wearing an open silk bathrobe. Even odder, underneath the robe he was wearing pants, a white long-sleeve shirt, black loafers, and an elegant red vest. A bulky brass and wood pipe dangled from his mouth with brass cogs turning on the sides. The middle-aged man kept one hand on the doorknob, the other loosely holding a small glass of some concoction. He opened half his mouth with a long muffle, "Aaayyy."
            Jacqueline rolled her window down with a disgruntled look, "They're all yours."
            "Well, well, wellio. Come right on in kids." Rick replied.
            Ryan got out of the car with some of his luggage and helped Kelsi out. Kelsi snatched her purse before it tipped over and off the seat. And the two were off. Jacqueline came to the butt-end of her cigarette taking one last drag before smashing it out in the ashtray; then she gave off a 'don't do anything stupid' glare with a warm smile and said her raspy goodbyes.
            Rick escorted the young couple to the inside of the house, "This is the living room where the cats watch me scratch myself."
            "Ewww." Kelsi retracted while Ryan held back a faint disturbed smile.
            Rick laughed and brushed his hair back, "I've been fixing up some hamburger and brownies, yall."
            Kelsi and Ryan took seats at the bar stools in the center kitchen aisle.
            "Brownies? I love brownies." Kelsi stated holding her head up with her hands.
            With memory of the word 'wild,' Ryan chimed in nervously, "What.. kind of brownies?"
            Rick slipped off his bathrobe hanging it on a chair, and fully revealing his classy outfit. He picked up the pan of meat and began flipping it around with a spatula. The gray-haired man took a sip of his cocktail, "Well duh, the kind that get you high."
            "We aren't interested in that sort of thing." Kelsi stated.
            Ryan grabbed a hold of Kelsi's hand, "Yeah, we're not those kind of kids."
            At that minute Rick dropped the spatula and pan onto the stove letting the meat simmer heavily. He stood there in hesitation causing awkwardness towards the two teenagers.
            Finally Rick turned around and spoke comically, "Its pot, its harmless. Does this bother you religiously? Because I'll have you know I'm legally ordained by my neighbor Steve."
            "No no.." Kelsi started trying not to giggle a little bit.
            Ryan came in, "This doesn't bother us religiously, I mean well no its a gateway.. its a gateway drug right?"
            Rick smiled, "Hey kids no pressure, forget it. More gateways for me."
            "So what do you do for fun other than playing a hard game of cards?" Rick asked as he sliced up onion with hamburger.
            "Well I don't know what that means but we like to hang out together--"
            Rick got smug, "Do you kids ever party?"
            Kelsi blurted out a reply, "Yeah sometimes church parties and we get together to play card games sometimes; but not like, hard card games, whatever that is."
            Uncle Rick sat down in a very fancy chair and his eyes looked as crafty as the moving cogs on his paraphernalia. With the smoke and its assorted burning counterparts rising like little devils from the pipe end, he kicked his legs up on his desk, a working laptop safely pushed to the corner.
            "Well what do you wanna do? We did come here because we thought it was going to be a different place to head off to a couple months before college." Ryan half-whispered to Kelsi.
            "Ya' know if you kids aren't blazing with me I'm gonna need you to stay out of the basement." Rick replied, working on dinner. "I was seriously gonna lock it anyways.. there's nothing important down there."
            There was no answer from the couple.
            "Okay.. I'll try it." Kelsi decided eyeing the weed, slightly embarrassed. She had tried smoking cigarettes before against Ryan's knowledge.
            Rick laughed and grinned, "Hell yeah, plans back on, that's what I'm talking about!"
            "Look Kelsi I don't know if we should do this.. I mean this could be dangerous for crying out loud!" Ryan stated.
            "It'll be okay Ryan, we don't have to try a lot." Kelsi assured him hiding her own endangered feelings with that of curiosity.
            Rick finished off his cocktail, refilled the glass out and set it down on the table. He got around dishes full of food and set them upon the table to eat. He brushed his hair back as a seldom ritual. Then got out the ash from his strange pipe by tapping it upon the large ashtray on the table. The pipe cogs pressed on in their turning regardless of each tap against the glass of the old adorned ashtray though the turning slowed quickly; the enigmatic smoking piece had to be of a fine custom caliber.
            The robed deviant made himself clear, "I'm not forcing anything on you for you both to know. You came up to Utah to have a good time and only you can make that happen, just as long as you don't act too crazy and play cards intelligently."
            Rick took a bag from his pocket filled with ground green bits of plants and began stuffing them into his nifty pipe. Rick leaned against the counter-top in a meticulous focus. The kids looked on nervously watching Rick light his bowl up and take a long drag; then Rick laid back and reached for a bottle of vodka from the cupboard passing the weed onto Ryan.
            Ryan looked over at his uncle awkwardly and then took a chain of short drags. He coughed a bit and upon retaining himself asked Rick (who was mixing the vodka with cranberry juice now), "So what do you do for a good time? Are you saying just sit around doing drugs?"
            Rick laid out the plates and dishes on the table while shaking his head. "No, no, no. Drugs can be bad. I'm saying that regardless of circumstances, you are the only person stopping you from having the god damn time of your god damn life."
            The two stared at each other and then off into space as if out of place. Ryan made his peace, "We try to stay away from curse words. Kelsi really doesn't like them."
            "Fair enough, fair enough." Rick stroked his whitish-gray goatee with an eyebrow arched sarcastically.
            Kelsi took the pipe from Ryan and took a long drag, she coughed real hard till her eyes watered. Ryan asked her if she was okay while he put his hand on her shoulder as she coughed. Rick just laughed to himself sipping his cocktail and reading a piece of the paper. Kelsi handed the pipe back to Rick and ran her hand through her hair with a breath of relief as the fit stopped.
            "So you came here to get have some fun with an strange relative before college?" Rick asked still gazing upon the newspaper.
            "Yes," Ryan coughed. "And I think we're done smoking, thanks.."
            "So what do you two want to do today? There's a town some miles from here you can rent movies and such. Its all up to you.. Or you could remember this Summer and do something wild. And if there's any man to help you with that, I'm the man for it. The one that got your parents together, Ryan.. and maybe the one that got them divorced."
            "Well are there any parties around? Like college parties?" Kelsi asked to Ryan's surprise.
            The older man tilted his head with a smokey smile at the dirty-dish blond girl, "Listen sweetie, you just don't get where I'm coming from do you? Either of you? Adjust as necessary, but be the party you want. Be the company you want. Live out the best of you."
            There was a succession of knocks on the door. "Rick Albatross?"
            "You kids hear that?" Rick leaned in smugly. "That's the cops. You marijuana virgins been here a sum-total of ten-minutes, and you've already been smoking weed. Maybe you should stop giving into peer pressure and thinking about your future for a change."
            Rick laughed on his way to answering the door. He talked politely to a police officer about some property damage that had recently went down. Non-buying kids had been egging houses on the outskirts of town, and Rick's was one of them.
            Kelsi leaned her head on Ryan's shoulder and shut her eyes.
            "I don't know if this was a good idea after all Kelsi, I just hope we can find a church around here." Ryan whispered.
            "Its fine. I'm just tired from the car ride here is all and I don't feel like going anywhere." She replied.
            Ryan's frustration lit up, "Well I at least want to do something."
            "Just do something without me, you usually do anyways." Kelsi's head sunk off into her hands with half a yawn.
            Ryan's voice rose up in frustration, "What's that supposed to mean? I do things with you all the time."
            Rick lounged from the door back into the kitchen, "Alright you two calm down, what's the problem here?"
            Kelsi's head rose and her eyes started watering, "He's too afraid to do any of the things I want to do. He just wants to stay in all the time. And I'm too tired right now anyways."
            "Ahhh ah ah ah aah." Rick said scooping up some food. "Ryan what do you think about this?"
            "I'm just nervous about going to stuff. I don't see why we can't just do something around this general vicinity, like inside."
            "Yeah you've said that before a million times." Kelsi crossed her arms.
            Rick's hair blew up a bit from the slight breeze coming through a nearby row of screened windows next to spoiling fruit. He brought in his laptop closer, lifted the latch, and pressed power. The hermit stroked his beard, "Well I have some work to do, so if you kids wanna watch a movie or go outside, do whatever."
            Rather than going into town to go for a walk or rent anything, Ryan and Kelsi decided to sit on the couch and watch television. They sat with some distance apart watching some rerun of a popular sitcom both were indifferent to at the time. The couple sat there in a compliant daze, like on a pleasant roller-coaster without questions or need for them. Kelsi eventually took the opportunity for a well-rested nap.
            Rick didn't like this, he swirled his cocktail before taking a big gulp. With a mumble, "You kids are so encapsulated with mainstream media you don't see the perspective all around you.."
            Even after a short walk touring shops and sight-seeing under the beautiful sundown, Ryan and Kelsi stayed upset at each other arrest of the day.

***


            Ryan awoke in a tidy, rarely used bedroom with a half-working doorknob. He had went to sleep next to Kelsi but she was no longer with him. The room seemed rarely used by anyone. He took a bit to look around, the room's furniture and accessories were accompanied with little but deafening silence. Ryan got up and dressed venturing around the house for signs of life.
            He checked the kitchen, the living room, other bedrooms, bathrooms, outside, and the closets. The green truck was still there in the parking lot unmoved and coated with morning dew; similarly, the yard-- if you could call sand that, was barren and empty. Ryan fixed up a pot of coffee and grabbed the phone scared that something had happened.
            Then sitting there Ryan remembered, the basement. That was probably it, they had just been sitting there stoned out of their minds in the basement or something. He felt panicky about the whole situation, but he went to the door finding it unlocked, and traveled on downwards. Before him was a room surrounded with tin-foil and lighted with heat lamps, familiar plants growing everywhere. The couch here was abandoned, facing a television that had been left on.
            When Ryan got back up to the kitchen he found a printed note on the floor he had ignored earlier. The piece of paper must've fell from a breeze off of the dining room table or the table by the phone. The note read:

            Your loved ones have been kidnaped. If you want to see them again, meet me at the nearest church at 9 PM with the locked metal box hidden under the desk in the basement.

            I will be watching you, do not contact the authorities. Failure to follow my instructions will result in your loved one's deaths.

            Signed,
            X


            Ryan dropped the phone on the table and sat against a dining room chair in panic. He did not know what to do so he waited tapping his fingers against the sturdy wooden surface, twiddling the front of his brown hair, and staring at his reflection in the glossy screen of a television. The screen remained off till the sky mimicked the screen, the young man's reflection full of tears.
            It wasn't until evening approached that Ryan received distressed phone call from Rick, "Listen you need to come here and bring that mini-vault from downstairs.. but be careful because the truck is registered as stolen.. You'll have to come fast, it's 8:43."
            The phone conversation ended with an uncomfortable click. Faced with enormous anxiety, Ryan had no choice in the matter. He contemplated what to do and what to take as his arms and legs shook in small tremors.. Ryan took a couple bottles of booze, matches, and two washclothes for molotovs like he had seen in movies. He also took a butcher knife, the truck keys, and of course, the locked mini-safe. He lastly decided to take a couple shots of liquor before the drive which he barely held down, his face scrunching up in temporary nausea.
            The young man made his way hastily through the door, locked it, then got in his uncle's large truck and started up towards the lighted town. He thought it was a good thing he had his license, though it was of little use in a stolen vehicle he didn't have insurance for. It was a quiet, lonely drive where the only thing audible to Ryan was his worry. The racing thoughts in his head of everything that could go wrong were met with little glimpses of the huge dust trail he left behind in the night.
            The empty miles between Rick's house and town were for speeding. Something Ryan would never normally do. With the radio up high, racing towards the unknown, time seem to all unionize into one perfect, imperative moment under the stars. It was almost sad when it all ended and the blurred atmosphere became a visible destination. He spotted the church to the far right immediately upon entering the cozy, quaint township.
            Ryan was almost there when a police officer came turning into the oncoming lane. The young man felt a surge of fear, his heart pounding as he began to perspire. He realized maybe, just maybe, the officer would do a bad job of noticing him being that the license plate was on the back end of the truck. A few intense moments went by as the vehicles crossed paths. The young man lucked out, and the police officer sped off past with other oncoming cars.
            The green truck arrived at the church in a hard search for a vacant place to park. To the right of the church was a cemetery in the middle of a nocturnal funeral procession; cars filled the parking lot on the church's left. There was nobody around the small, white chapel otherwise. And nobody looked more suspicious than the average mourning stranger.
            Ryan got out of the truck and slammed the door, wiping his brow as the chapel's front door opened. Rick was there in a similar uniform as the day before, minus the bathrobe with his hair tied back in three pony-tails and his pipe unlit-- the cogs stationary.
            How the hell does that pipe work? Ryan thought before breaking from his spell of trivial curiosity.
            "What's going on Rick?" Ryan begged.
            Rick shut the heavy door and treaded slowly down the steps before lighting up his pipe. With a flick of the older man's lighter the cogs began turning, increments at first and then at their constant pace. He brushed his hair back with a deviant grin and glared at Ryan with his glossy green eyes, "I kidnaped your girlfriend."
            Ryan fumed and his fists clenched. Seconds later he clocked his uncle on the side of the face where the pipe wasn't sticking out. A few people were staring over from the funeral gasping. Some bats soared out of their trees and church gutters as Rick cursed and retreated back a bit.
            A disgruntled well-dressed man ventured out of the funeral group, "Hey, what's the meaning of all this!? Don't you have any respect?"
            Rick pulled the pipe from his mouth, "Don't worry its cool, I'm ordained. Family reunion hostage ceremony. We'll be out of here in a few minutes I promise."
            "You damn well better or I'm calling the cops!" The man sneered, his face as angrier than Ryan's.
            "Where is she then?" Ryan asked.
            Rick wiped some of the blood off his nose with his sleeve, "You hit hard kid, I was obviously joking.. She wanted to leave so I had someone I know take her just recently this morning."
            "What? She left?"
            "But if you want to go chasing after her, I'm fine doing that-- just as long as you brought that vault of weed, I don't like going anywhere completely sober." Rick put the pipe back in his mouth.
            "No, that doesn't make any sense. Why would she leave?" The young man stepped back, scratching his head looking down on the ground.
            Rick directed his nephew over to some flowers growing between the church and parking lot. "Well before we go lets pick some flowers, pay tribute to this strange funeral as a respectful thing to do.. and so we can bribe them out of calling the cops."
            They made their way over to the chapel side and inconspicuously took some flowers.
            "Is your truck really stolen?" Ryan asked.
            Rick puffed on his pipe and brushed his hair back. "No, but that box has a lock on it for a reason."
            The three went over to the funeral procession. Rick apologized and explained that they visited there to honor the dead recipient. The two made their greetings, left their flowers, and made their goodbyes. Then they went back towards the truck.
            "Wait." Ryan went into physical stasis. "I want to go in the church. If Kelsi needed to leave that's fine, it was her choice. But I just think its best if I go sit and contemplate for awhile about all this. It doesn't make sense."
            "Do whatever you wish. I'll be in the truck."
            Ryan went over to the double doors of the chapel. The whole building glowing white against the moonlight. He entered.
            The whole building was well lit and near empty except for a hefty woman in the back dusting and cleaning. Ryan could see Kelsi's long dirty-dish blond hair from a nearby pew. Kelsi turned to him and stood up smiling, "We wanted to get you out of the house with a prank, and just like I thought, under the right circumstances you'd come in here first."
            Ryan was in a state of surprise.
            The couple approached each other, hugged each other and kissed.
            Kelsi had her eyebrows furrowed, "Ewww.. Ryan, your breath, it smells like rum, kind of like a pirate.. Then I guess that's kind of sexy."
            "I took a couple shots before I came speeding here." Ryan replied.
            The young man furrowed his eyebrows, "You know.. not that it bothers me, but you just overall.. you smell heavily of marijuana."
            "After last night, I've.. gotten better at smoking it." Kelsi giggled.
            The woman in the back gave the couple a dirty look and continued with her sweeping. The couple laughed heavily to themselves. They exited the church hand in hand out into the dark blanket. Kelsi looked around at the moon, clouds, and stars, "Its such a beautiful night."
            Uncle Rick was halfway to wasted in the passenger seat of his truck listening to some strange rock band with his safe on his lap. He rolled the window down and barely lowered the velocity of the music to show a half empty bottle and a washcloth, "What the hell were you gonna do Ryan, catch me on fire!?"
            When the couple got to the truck Rick chimed in again with the radio off, "You drove it out here you drive it back. Drunky me no drivey. And when we get back to my house we'll have to eat fast, there's a show and an after-party we should go check out.. that is if Ryan feels like coming and driving."
            "A party? Yes!" Kelsi blurted out excited. She looked over at Ryan smugly as though she knew terminology he didn't, "We can play cards."
            There was an awkward pause from Ryan before he pulled a butcher knife from his pocket and handed it to Rick who was humorously confused at the sight of it. Rick placed the pipe down and kept the bottle enclosed under the seat, the vault at his feet. Rick's pipe had cooled so the gears were stationary with no heat to power them. He mumbled to himself as he put the knife away, "You were gonna stab me too eh? I guess this type of preparation runs in the family."
            Ryan started the vehicle and looked at his girlfriend who was staring back at him, biting her lip for a positive answer. Adjust as necessary, but be the party you want. Be the company you want. Live out the best of you.
            Ryan pecked Kelsi on the side of the head and rang out, "I'm up for it."

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